Stumbling to the finish line in what has been one of its most uneven seasons in years, the Long Wharf theatre is presenting, as its season finale, one of the country’s most produced plays. Lucas Hnath’s Tony Award winning “A Doll’s House, Part 2” already had a so-so production at Theaterworks in Hartford last February and is now currently coming up short at the New Haven theatre. This four-character, one-set, 90 minute play is a producer’s dream of both economical theatre and contemporary talking points. It is an inventive, clever and oh-so-timely work that, thus far, deserves much better than it has received in its Connecticut showcases.
Upon its release in 1879, Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” scandalized Norway at a time when married women were told their place in society and stayed silently in their husband’s shadow. Hnath’s Nora (Maggie Bofill) is now older and wiser, a successful businesswoman who has returned after a 15 year absence to her husband, Torvald (Jorge Cordova), with a matter that only he can solve. It’s still very much a man’s world as Nora has sadly learned.
The problems begin almost immediately at Long Wharf with Arnulfo Maldonado’s baffling set. It is, without doubt, an accomplished, atmospheric and, ultimately, a totally wrong-headed design for this particular play. A barnlike back wall frames the action that takes place on what looks like a clapboard deck on the southern bayou complete with hanging moss, a tree growing wildly through the splintered wood and squawking birds in the distance. The set would work perfectly for “Night of the Iguana”, but it never for a moment suggests the Norway-setting essential for Ibsen’s drama. The design is explained by director Will Davis in the program notes as having something to do with illustrating “the showdown between natural and artificial powers at work”. Sorry. Not buying it. Sounds like a director bogged down with concept with no logical follow-thru.
And so it is with performances that are directed like musical comedy: big, broad and cartoonish. Most of the monologues are presentational in style and often shouted directly at the audience. Ms. Bofill definitely comes off best here delivering a compelling Nora that almost manages to survive the misdirection. Not so lucky is Cordova’s silly Torvald or the woefully interpreted Emmy (Nora’s daughter) of Sasha Diamond. Mia Katigbak as Anne Marie, Torvald’s faithful housekeeper, would probably impress under better circumstances. There are some rather confused lighting effects provided by designer Barbara Samuels and insistent sound (birds and cuckoo clocks) by Jane Shaw that is all in tandem with the questionable scenic design.
After a mostly disappointing season, we wait hopefully for Long Wharf’s promising new Artistic Director, Jacob G. Padron, to take the helm next fall.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” will continue at the Long Wharf Theatre through May 26. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.787.4284 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.